Are Inferences “Necessary”?

Here of late, I’ve been giving much thought to how inferences are used in our fellowship. They are, after all, one of our interpretive methods, and some do a fine job with them while others, not so much. Nevertheless, I don’t believe we can avoid using inferences altogether because it’s a part of logic, and while some may be better logicians than others, we can’t throw out their value. We must, however, use good logic and be fair to the Text rather than trying to read our prejudices back into it.

When reading Acts 8:35–36 we conclude through inference that preaching Jesus entailed baptism; otherwise, how would the Eunuch have known to request such? This is a logical inference, I believe. However, in illogical inference which some make is that the Eunuch must have had water with him on his journey (Acts 8:26). Therefore, if sprinkling were a valid form of baptism, then he wouldn’t have needed the body of water but could have used the water with which he traveled to sprinkle as a mode of baptism. This, I think, is stretching the Text far beyond what it ought to be.

When other possibilities rule out the latter inference, then we must be unwilling to bind the latter inference upon others. This isn’t to say that I believe sprinkling is a mode of baptism because I don’t. The earliest reference to pouring occurs in Didache 7.3 (late first–early second century) but is only allowed under special circumstances. One might offer that the Eunuch knew the route he was taking and where bodies of water were, or where he might pause along his travels to refresh himself. The likelihood that he took water with him isn’t illogical altogether, but it isn’t the only possibility, so trying to use Acts 8 and the Eunuch’s conversion to argue against sprinkling is grasping at straws.

Other passages might negate sprinkling as a medium of baptism much easier. First, linguistically the term means to immerse. Second, two passages refer to baptism as a burial which further enforces immersion (Romans 6:3–4; Colossians 2:12). Third, archaeologically, numerous mikvehs (baptismal pools) have been discovered around Jerusalem suggesting that the mass baptism that occurred in Acts 2 had adequate room for immersions. Fourth, the fact that John baptized in the river Jordan also suggests an immersion rather than sprinkling.

Inferences are necessary, and sometimes a necessary evil in that they aren’t always used as logic would dictate. Caution must be urged in knowing when to bind such on others. I would rather we not bind inferences on one another only because we are prone to do so using poor logic and not rightly dividing the Word. However, finding the balance between where they should be bound and not so is the task for us all wherein we must be careful lest we add to the Word where God hasn’t.

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.